Welcome to another round of Agent Shop.
Our attending agent is Kevan Lyon of the Marsal Lyon Literary agency.
Our author spotlight today is Lynne Bryant with her soon to be released
Roxanne Reeves defines her life by the committees she heads and the social status she cultivates. But she is keeping secrets that make her an outsider in her own town, always in search of acceptance. And when she is given a job none of the other white women want-researching the town’s African-American history for a tour of local sites-she feels she can’t say no.
Elderly Grace Clark, a retired black schoolteacher, reluctantly agrees to become Roxanne’s guide. Grace takes Roxanne to Catfish Alley, whose undistinguished structures are nonetheless sacred places to the black community because of what happened there. As Roxanne listens to Grace’s stories, and meets her friends, she begins to see differently. She is transported back to the past, especially to 1931, when a racist’s hatred for Grace’s brother leads to events that continue to change lives decades later. And as Roxanne gains an appreciation of the dreams, courage, and endurance of those she had so easily dismissed, her own life opens up in new and unexpected ways.
Thanks for being here Lynne!
Can you tell us where the idea for CATFISH ALLEY came from?
Lynne: The real Catfish Alley in my hometown of Columbus, Mississippi, was a gathering place for African Americans from the late nineteenth century through my growing up years in the seventies. In its heyday, in the early 1900s, it was a short block between Main and College Street where locals could bring their catfish catch and sell it in the alley. The story is that the Alley got its name from the wonderful smell of fried catfish wafting across Main Street on any given day.
While doing research on the antebellum homes in Columbus, I ran across the list of sites for the Columbus African-American Heritage tour. Catfish Alley was one of those sites. I began to wonder about the stories of the men and women who might have lived during those early years of the twentieth century. I started to research places that I’d grown up around but never really noticed, and I began to ask myself “what if a white woman and a black woman were thrown together, not necessarily by choice, to examine the history of the Columbus African American community?” So, out of all of this imagery, memory, and life experience, the story of Catfish Alley was born.
Care to share your ‘call’ experience? Either from when you were offered representation or when you got the call saying CATFISH ALLEY had sold?
Lynne: Finding my wonderful agent, Kevan Lyon, was a combination of a twist of fate and learning to listen and pay attention to details. I signed up to read for Kevan at a Read and Critique session during the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in April, 2009. At the time, I did not have an agent and I read from a completed Southern novel of mine which I had been trying for several months to sell. I’m now happy to say that Kevan didn’t find that story very interesting–“sounds like kitchen table conversation,” I remember her saying. But what I did notice that day was how intrigued she was by a very tiny historical detail in the excerpt that I read, and I took notice when she said how much she loved historical fiction.
I went home that day discouraged, but curious. What if? In November, 2008, during NANOWRIMO, I had started writing a story that moved back and forth between contemporary Mississippi, and the 1920s. The novel wasn’t finished, and I knew that if I pitched it, I’d be breaking one of the rules of pitching: “Always pitch a completed manuscript.” However, I decided it was my “go big or go home” moment, so I cancelled my pitch appointment with a different agent for the completed novel, and took a chance that Kevan might have a cancellation in her pitch schedule. And I got lucky! She had a cancellation, and when I pitched the story of Catfish Alley, she liked it! I did start my pitch with the caveat that the book wasn’t finished yet. I still have a vivid memory of that conversation. Kevan said, “I’m intrigued. Send me a hundred pages.” I, of course, agreed—trying to remember to breathe—especially when she continued with, “You know that if I like this, I’m going to push you.” I nodded, and smiled, and shook her hand, then proceeded out of the pitch room so that I could have a small nervous breakdown. A hundred pages! I had close to two hundred pages written, but none of it was polished and ready for anyone else to read—not even my mother!
Here’s when the next twist of fate happened. I attended the conference dinner that evening and sat at a table with some really nice folks who had recently published a non-fiction book together. She was beginning a novel, and he was pitching a mystery. The woman, Elizabeth Roberts, said to me “Whatever you do, before you send that hundred pages, have an editor read it—not your relatives or your friends—a real editor who doesn’t know you.” I took her words to heart (more of the paying attention).We shared our elation over being asked for pages from agents, and generally enjoyed the evening together. The next week, I realized that I didn’t really know any editors, so I consulted one of my students who had been an editor, and was starting a second career in nursing. She graciously agreed to get in touch with her contacts. One of the names she came back with was Elizabeth Roberts, her neighbor and an editor! Elizabeth, in a very short turn-around time, helped me hone those first one hundred pages into something I was willing to share with Kevan.
Kevan called within a couple of days with a message for me to send her the whole book. Again, I panicked! I called her back and said, “Um…I’m the one who doesn’t have the book finished. Remember?” And, miraculously, she said, “Oh, that might be even better. I can give you feedback as you finish it.” That was when I knew that I had found a jewel for an agent!
The next several months, as I completed sections of the novel and sent them to her for feedback, were not so much about being pushed as about being encouraged. She believed in the story, and her constructive feedback helped me to make the novel stronger. I finished Catfish Alley by Labor Day of 2009, and by October, Kevan had sold it to Ellen Edwards at New American Library, a division of the Penguin Group. What a fabulous present for my fiftieth birthday!
What a wonderful way to find Kevan! What else do you have in the works?
Lynne: I’m just completing the manuscript for Alligator Lake. The novel is set in the Mississippi Delta town of Greenville. It’s the story of a young woman who flees Mississippi right after high school, trying to leave behind a tragic event that arises out of racial segregation. When she leaves, she is pregnant with a mixed race child. She returns to Greenville ten years later, accompanied by her daughter, to grapple with some unsolved mysteries of her life, and in so doing, ends up getting immersed in her grandmother’s history. It’s a story of four generations of women—each of whom deals with Mississippi in her own way—part love story, part mystery, and a lot about that Southern sense of place. Like Catfish Alley, the story moves back and forth in time between contemporary time and the past.
Excellent. Good luck! Care to share one piece of advice you would pass on to other aspiring authors?
Lynne: I consider myself very much a novice in the world of writing. Writing is the thing I have done in my life that scares me the most, making it paradoxically the most satisfying thing that I’ve ever done. If I were to offer any advice, it would be to take to heart every bit of feedback you receive and consider how that feedback could make your writing stronger. This doesn’t mean you’ll always use it, but always consider it. The other thing I would say is to carve out time to write regularly. It’s challenging when you work full time, but if nothing else, writing feeds your soul, and a writer must feed her soul!
CATFISH ALLEY sounds wonderful and I’m so glad you came to visit us today. I’ll be adding this to my TBR pile for certain. Look at these great reviews!
Praise for Catfish Alley
“…her tale will appeal to readers who enjoyed The Help. The author accesses her own tumultuous Southern history to lend her enchanting tale much local color.” — Publishers Weekly
4 and1/2 stars–TOP PICK–“Beautifully written and extremely poetic… full of tales of courage and endurance that may bring you to tears with their intensity, this is not a novel you’ll soon forget.” — RT Book Reviews
“A tender, wise, unique story of life, love, and southern women, crafted by a skilled writer who understands the struggle to find happiness and the healing power of friendship.” — Lisa Wingate, author of Beyond Summer and Larkspur Cove
“In the tradition of The Help, Lynne Bryant’s Catfish Alley tackles the racial divide of both 1920s and current-day Mississippi in a page-turning narrative that has, at its heart, the search for personal connections as the path to both survival and understanding.” — Lalita Tademy, author of Cane River
“Catfish Alley is a bittersweet love song to the union of women, and a heartfelt meditation on the old and new wounds of a South that still must tiptoe, still doesn’t always know how to move forward, but is determined to try. Lynne Bryant writes honorably and earnestly about women facing each other and themselves.” — Barbara O’Neal, How to Bake a Perfect Life
“Catfish Alley is Lynne Bryant’s first novel — and in reading it, I feel as if I’ve stumbled on a rare gem! …an extremely captivating story that unfolds and will keep you hooked until the very last page.” — Dreamworld Book Reviews
Release Date: April 5, 2011
Lynne’s website and blog: http://www.lynne-bryant.com
Where to buy: http://www.amazon.com; http://www.barnesandnoble.com; http://www.borders.com; http://www.indiebound.org; http://www.penguin.com; http://www.booksamillion.com
A love of storytelling and a desire to follow humbly in the footsteps of the great Southern writers prompted Lynne Bryant to write her debut novel Catfish Alley, to be released by New American Library (a division of Penguin Group USA) on April 5, 2011. Lynne was born and raised in rural Mississippi, where her maternal grandparents farmed cotton and her mother is one of their fifteen children. Catfish Alley weaves together historical and contemporary characters in a unique story about female friendship, endurance, and hope in the South. Lynne is at work on her second novel, Alligator Lake, due to be released April, 2012. Lynne is currently a college professor in Colorado, but the home of her heart will always be the South. For more information, visit Lynne’s website at http://www.lynne-bryant.com.
As I’ve done in the past, I’ll be awarding the first pitch slot to one lucky comment that uses the word CATFISH! Lynne is also going to give away a copy of CATFISH ALLEY to one lucky person. Both will be randomly selected.
Good luck to everyone!
And that means – it’s time!
Send your pitch to me firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember to check, double check, and triple check your pitch to make sure it follows the rules exactly.